Freeform Friday: The Assassin’s Curse Series (Including The Assassin’s Curse and The Pirate’s Wish) – Cassandra Rose Clarke

This Freeform Friday, I have a duology review.  
Let’s start with our review of the first book in the series — 
The Assassin’s Curse.  
Our thoughts on the second book, The Pirate’s Wish, are posted just below.  
Summary:  Ananna of the Tanarau abandons ship when her parents try to marry her off to another pirate clan.  But that only prompts the scorned clan to send an assassin after her.  When Ananna faces him down one night, armed with magic she doesn’t really know how to use, she accidentally activates a curse binding them together.  
To break the spell, Ananna and the assassin must complete three impossible tasks — all while grappling with evil wizards, floating islands, haughty manticores, runaway nobility, strange magic…and the growing romantic tension between them.  (Summary from back of book – Image from
*NOTE*  Some of the second paragraph of the above summary doesn’t actually happen in this book.  Not really.  Presumably, it happens in the second one.  I find it completely bizarre that they even have what amounts to spoilers on the back of the first book, but whatevs. Too late now.
My Review:  I picked up this book because I loved the cover art (so sue me!).  I was also enticed by the story and a Tamora Pierce recommendation, calling it ‘unique, heart-wrenching, full of mysteries and twists!”  I hadn’t heard of it the series before but figured, what the heck,  I’m in full-on quarantine right now (translation: mid-April 2020).  I’m not going anywhere in real life.  Might as well go on an adventure!
The Assassin’s Curse is a fine adventure with plenty of action, a strong-willed heroine, and a host of interesting characters.  I blazed through it one lazy weekend with time to spare and it took very little effort on my part.  I enjoyed the premise — hard-edged pirate girl meets mysterious assassin, both of whom get tangled up in a curse that will take them on a perilous journey —  but something about it just felt off.  Although the book is marketed towards an young adult audience, the writing itself felt more ‘middle-grade,’ stripped down, and lacking the complexity I would expect from a book written for older teens. 

The main character, Ananna, is a seventeen-year-old female pirate, raised on the sea surrounded by a bunch of other pirates and, as such, in possession of her own piratical parlance.  The author’s approach to the main character’s way of speaking seemed to be the zealous application of the word of  ain’t and the occasional double negative or profanity.  It just didn’t work for me. The ain’ts were annoying, but I could handle them.  The double negatives were arguably appropriate to convey a lack of formal education.  However, the author chose to use modern profanity, which not only felt jarring in a novel that seemed written for tweens (no matter how pirate-laden) but not even remotely right for the setting.

While I thoroughly enjoyed how Ananna and Naji came to become traveling companions, and much of their interaction, I didn’t feel any of the hinted-at romantic chemistry between them.  There were definitely some one-sided feelings happening, but nothing reciprocal and, quite frankly, that’s just no fun.  Ultimately, I wanted more from this book than it gave me.  More complexity, richness, and depth.  More nuanced characters, chemistry, and real honest-to-goodness romantic tension.  I wanted the story to come alive and it just, well…didn’t.  

All. That. Having. Been. Said. 
This book ends without any real closure and I have the sequel, The Pirate’s Wish sitting right here next to me.  It’s staring at me, and its summary is tempting, and I can’t help but wonder if things won’t get better in book two.  I mean, it could happen, right?  RIGHT?  
*GAH*  What the heck.  It’s quarantine.  I’ll let you know.  (You guys are so spoiled.  You don’t even have to wait.  See below)
My Rating:  3.25 Stars
For the sensitive reader: Around twenty (give or take) instances of profanity.  Some mild violence.  
1bookcover - Freeform Friday: The Assassin's Curse Series (Including The Assassin's Curse and The Pirate's Wish) - Cassandra Rose Clarke
The Pirate’s Wish is the second book in The Assassin’s Curse duology.
Summary:  After setting out to break the curse that binds them, the pirate Ananna and the assassin Naji find themselves stranded on an enchanted island with nothing but a sword and their wits.  But Naji has unseen enemies, and Ananna must face the wrath of the Pirate Confederation.
Together, they must travel afar, defeat their foes and break the other of all curses.  With all this going on, falling in love would be such a bad idea… All of this and much, much more await in the swashbuckling sequel to The Assassin’s Curse. (Summary from back of book – Image from
My Review:  In The Pirate’s Wish, Ananna and Naji embark on a journey to complete three impossible tasks and break the curse that binds them together.  Over the course of the book, they venture to unexpected places, pick up a few new traveling companions, and come to depend on each other more than ever.

Occasionally — very very occasionally — the second book in a series will make me like the first book a little bit more.  Such is the case with The Pirate’s Wish.  The sequel still had much in common with its predecessor, both good and bad, but I definitely gained a greater appreciation for the first by reading the second.  There was still modern profanity and the liberal use of the word ain’t, but the writing was significantly improved, I was more drawn into the plot, and there was a marked increase in chemistry and romantic tension between the two main characters.

The Pirate’s Wish touches on some more adult themes which contributed to the book feeling a bit older than The Assassin’s Curse.  I didn’t love everything that brought to the story, but nothing was particularly graphic or drawn out.  It’s hard to be critical of the magical elements of any story, seeing as magic has no real rules or boundaries; the author basically has carte blanche to do whatever they want.  However, there was one particular aspect of the story that tested my commitment to ‘believe’ the world the author created.  It wasn’t the manticore either.  Sharks, I’m looking at you. Thankfully, that part was short lived and I felt this book ended on a good note.

1bookcover - Freeform Friday: The Assassin's Curse Series (Including The Assassin's Curse and The Pirate's Wish) - Cassandra Rose ClarkeTaken on its own, I don’t think The Assassin’s Curse is much to write home about but, combined with The Pirate’s Wish and viewed as part of a larger story, I did come to appreciate the arc of it all and author’s creative combination of old world adventure, mythology, elemental magic, and the mundane.  I actually think it would be much better if the two books were combined into one and ohmygosh would you look at that ————————————————-> 

Magic of Blood and Sea is a combined edition of the two books.  I can’t speak to whether it is an exact duplicate of the two books I just read, but I’m betting it’s pretty darn close.

My Rating: 3.75 Stars

For the sensitive reader:  Swearing (about 20ish incidents of the H, A, S, F, D, and B variety). Mild violence.  Discussion of sexual matters.  Non-graphic sex between two characters.  Non-graphic kissing between two same gender characters.  

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

The post The Art Of Gary Choo appeared first on Halcyon Realms – Art Book Reviews – Anime, Manga, Film, Photography.